After teaching MORE, MILK and EAT, teaching food related signs is the next logical step since food is highly motivating for babies. Foods are also a hefty part of a baby’s daily routine, giving you plenty of opportunity to talk about them with your baby. Once your baby understands how to do certain signs, he will be able to tell you exactly what foods he wants and doesn’t want. He’ll also be able to tell you when he’s are ALL DONE/FINISHED. This comes in handy at meal end when you aren’t sure if he’s still hungry or ready to go play instead.
All Done or Finished: In the ASL sign for ALL DONE the hands in the “5” handshape begin palm up and flip over as if to show that there is nothing left.
Whenever you teach a food sign, always be sure to have the food of the sign you are teaching handy and in plentiful supply. If you sign BANANA’s you aren’t going to want to give your baby an APPLES instead. Signing foods is association based, so your baby needs to be able to experience the food as much as possible. Likewise, introducing the sign for RAISIN when you only have a few left at the bottom of the bag will also be counterproductive. Make sure you have a good amount so that you can reinforce the concepts repeatedly. You also want to do the sign before, during and after eating the food. For example, sign for APPLE when asking your baby if they want one, sign it as they eat it by talking about its colour and taste and then when the apple has been totally eaten, explain how it’s ALL DONE and that they can have another at a later time. You can also sign APPLE, or any other fruit, when you see one hanging in a tree, or while flipping through a picture book. The more contexts you can show an object in, the more universal they’ll see the sign being. Whatever food signs you do introduce always be sure to keep signing them to your baby so they understand that signing is part of the process.
Above: Baby signing APPLE, PEAR, BERRIES, RAISINS, POTATO, PUMPKIN, EGG, CHICKEN, PEAS, TOMATO, ICE CREAM, GARLIC, ONION, CHEESE, CRACKER, POPCORN, KETCHUP, FRIES, and WATER.
When you first introduce a new food, simply ask your baby if they would like some. Say “Would you like a BANANA?”, “Do you want me to peel the BANANA for you?” and so forth. Then hand your baby the banana and continue to talk about it. You can then help your baby do the sign if they will let you. The best way to create the sign association is when your baby is eating the food because it involves more of than just one sense. They will be able to touch, taste, feel, see and smell the food. This is part of the reason why teaching food items (especially tasty ones) is so much easier than other signs.
You can repeat these techniques with any food. Other great foods to start with include: PEACH, JUICE, MEAT, COOKIE, CRACKER, CEREAL, TOAST, TOMATOES, EGG, BOTTLE, DRINK, ORANGE, WATER and HOT/COLD (when food is too hot to touch or is cold to drink).
Above: The “U” handshape with palms facing inward at chest level are curved downward quickly aiming the fingertips outward as if cracking an egg in the ASL sign for EGG.
To teach the sign for ALL DONE/ FINISHED, which is another good first sign to work on, simply complete each meal, or each part of a meal with the sign. You can ask your baby if they are ALL DONE as they near the end of their meal too, or are running out of food. ALL DONE is also transferable to many other situations such as the end of a book, when you’re finished a game, activity, or even a song. ALL DONE also works when it’s time to leave the playground, at the end of visiting with Grandma and so on. When doing it at the end of a fun activity it can reduce surprises and thereby prevent tantrums so try to make ALL DONE something you do regularly to habituate your baby.
Above: This video shows the evolution of ALL DONE in my sons signing. He starts off with just a bye-bye motion with just one hand, which turns into more of a MILK sign with one hand, then a MILK sign with both hands, and finally a pretty accurate ALL DONE. Babies should never be expected to start off signing perfectly from the start! Reward any and all efforts and permit your baby to learn through trial and error and work with their own capabilities. No pressure!